Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Fukushima: Willy Wonka and the Radiation Factory

One would be forgiven for feeling a weight on one’s soul with each sporadic, slowly unfolding fragment of unfortunate news from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor crisis.  While not newsworthy in an “info-entertainment” sense it is probably inevitable that we continue to follow the sombre narrative as if a friend or acquaintance was declining slowly:

The government expects that several months may be required before radioactive particles stop being released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, its top spokesman said Sunday.

”If we apply methods considered to be normal, I believe that it will be something like that,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference, when asked whether at least several months would be required before the plant crippled by the devastating March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami is brought under control.

Several months needed to stop radiation from Fukushima plant: gov’t Kyodo 3 Apr 11

NYT caption: In an image provided by Tokyo Electric Power Company, contaminated water from the crippled No. 2 reactor is seen leaking through a crack and draining into the ocean at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northern Japan on Saturday.

But several months of what?:

Experts estimate that about seven tons an hour of radioactive water is escaping the pit. Safety officials have said that the water, which appears to be coming from the damaged No. 2 reactor, contains one million becquerels per liter of iodine 131, or about 10,000 times the levels normally found in water at a nuclear plant.

Hiroko Tabuchi and Ken Belson – Efforts to Plug Japanese Reactor Leak Seem to Fail NYT 3 Apr 11

OK, we are surely getting a crash course on nuclear physics and public safety as the ramifications of the continuing radiation impacts are quantified locally and in the world at large.

The whole world is certainly watching:

For the clearest picture of what is happening at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, talk to scientists thousands of miles away.

Thanks to the unfamiliar but sophisticated art of atomic forensics, experts around the world have been able to document the situation vividly. Over decades, they have become very good at illuminating the hidden workings of nuclear power plants from afar, turning scraps of information into detailed analyses.

For example, an analysis by a French energy company revealed far more about the condition of the plant’s reactors than the Japanese have ever described: water levels at the reactor cores dropping by as much as three-quarters, and temperatures in those cores soaring to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to burn and melt the zirconium casings that protect the fuel rods.

William J Broad – From Afar, a Vivid Picture of Japan Crisis NYT 2 Apr 11

Indeed, the “atomic forensics” potentially tell us a lot:

Anyone familiar with the diaries following this story would recognise the sources cited in this interview.  Worried?  Join the club.  The engineers and workers risking their health to contain this tragedy are faced with a number of difficult choices.  Anyone watching the TEPCO Fukishima webcam over recent weeks would have observed the almost continual release of steam, and sometimes recurring black smoke, from the crippled site; framed among otherwise pacific sunrises and dusks.  But here’s a recent high-definition close-up of what the engineers and workers are dealing with:

There are a number of potential outcomes to this crisis but at the moment none of them seem to exclude the release of a significant fraction of the radiological material barely under control in some units at the site.


  1. Shaun Appleby

    NEWS ADVISORY: Radioactive level 100 times limit in water to be dumped in sea: TEPCO (16:23)

    @W7VOA Kyodo: TEPCO considering releasing into sea from tomorrow 15,000 tons of radioactive water. #Fukushima

    17 minutes ago

    We’re between a rock and a hard place.

  2. HappyinVT

    I take some small comfort in the dog that was found over the weekend on a roof about a mile out at sea, alive and in good health considering.

  3. Shaun Appleby

    This don’t seem to be getting much worse as far as impact on surrounding areas but you can see why there is controversy over the 30km evacuation limit:

  4. Shaun Appleby


    The unstoppable radioactive discharge into the Pacific has prompted experts to sound the alarm, as cesium, which has a much longer half-life than iodine, is expected to concentrate in the upper food chain.

    According to Tepco, some 300,000 becquerels per sq. centimeter of radioactive iodine-131 was detected Saturday, while the amount of cesium-134 was 2 million times the maximum amount permitted and cesium-137 was 1.3 million times the amount allowable.

    The amount of iodine-131 dropped to 79,000 becquerels per sq. centimeter Sunday but shot up again Monday to 200,000 becquerels, 5 million times the permissible amount.

    The level of radioactive iodine in the polluted water inside reactor 2’s cracked storage pit had an even higher concentration. A water sample Saturday had 5.2 million becquerels of iodine per sq. centimeter, or 130 million times the maximum amount allowable, and water leaking from the crack had a reading of 5.4 million becquerels, Tepco said.

    “It is a considerably high amount,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

    Kanako Takahara – Radioactivity in sea up 7.5 million times Japan Times 5 Apr 11

    The nuclear fission seems like the sorcerer’s apprentice.

  5. Shaun Appleby

    From the NRC via the Times which paraphrased the statement, “that some of the core of a stricken Japanese reactor had probably leaked from its steel pressure vessel into the bottom of the containment structure, implying that the damage was even worse than previously thought.”

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s statement regarded unit No. 2, and the agency underscored that its interpretation was speculative and based on high radiation readings that Tokyo Electric had found in the lower part of unit No. 2’s primary containment structure, called the drywell. The statement said that the commission “does not believe that the reactor vessel has given way, and we do believe practically all of the core remains in the vessel.”

    The agency’s statement was issued after Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, told a House hearing on Wednesday morning that the commission had told him that the core had melted through the vessel.

    He based that on a question his staff had asked the agency. But the agency responded to him by e-mail on Tuesday without directly addressing possible melting, saying only that it speculated that “part of the Unit 2 core may be out of the reactor pressure vessel and may be in the lower space of the drywell.” After the hearing, in response to numerous questions, the agency said that “there are possible leakage paths from the reactor vessel into the drywell.”

    Matthew L Wald and Andrew Pollack – Core of Stricken Reactor Probably Leaked, U.S. Says NYT 7 Apr 11

    We know very little of the condition of the reactors even after all this time.

Comments are closed.